USOC quarterfinal preview: Earthquakes welcome Sounders to Kezar Stadium

Continuing their tour of the Bay Area as part of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, the San Jose Earthquakes host the Seattle Sounders in a quarterfinal match at historic Kezar Stadium in San Francisco (Tuesday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m.). The Earthquakes will hope to get to the tournament’s semifinal round for only the second time in club history, but, in order to do so, they will need to beat the three-time defending Open Cup champions Sounders.

Both teams played MLS league matches over the weekend, with the Earthquakes winning 2-1 against Real Salt Lake on Saturday and the Sounders losing 2-1 to the Portland Timbers on Sunday. The short turnaround for both clubs could pose a problem for Tuesday night’s game, but Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop feels his team will have no problem fielding a strong starting XI.

“This is a massive game for this club, so the team we are putting out there will not be a weakened team,” said Yallop after training on Monday. “It will be the freshest and best available players we have. It’s important to know we are not just giving guys minutes, but we are going there to win the match. Guys are dying to play that haven’t lately and we have a few guys that are rested from the road trip and will be rested for this game. I’m trying to manage minutes and making sure we are strong in this game.”

One player that looked primed to go during training on Monday was goalkeeper David Bingham, who, in addition to his regular training exercises, fit in a session of taking and saving penalty kicks. If Tuesday’s Open Cup match is tied at the end of 90 minutes, 30 minutes of extra time will be played. If the game is still tied after 120 minutes, the match will be decided on penalty kicks. For Yallop, he has seen enough of his talented second-year goalkeeper to know that he will be up for the challenge of facing the Sounders.

“David Bingham will definitely play,” said Yallop. “He started in the previous two Open Cup games and I am going to play him against Seattle. He did well against Colorado last week and I expect he will do the same for us in this game.”

The Sounders are coming off a difficult loss to their southern rivals the Timbers on Sunday and could benefit from some extra time off. However, the Open Cup schedule was predetermined, and Seattle had no choice but to prepare for Tuesday’s game on just two days rest. Add to that the team’s recent struggles in MLS, and the Sounders come into the match more the whimper of a wounded animal than the swagger of a reigning champion. Coach Yallop wasn’t buying that comparison and made sure to warn his players not to get complacent against a team that has the quality to win on Tuesday.

“You can’t give teams like that any daylight,” said Yallop. “It’s just like any other game we face, no matter whether the opponent is winning or not. You’re still playing against a quality opponent, and I always tell our guys that any team can beat us if we don’t play our game.”

An interesting side plot to Tuesday’s match is the clash of head coaches. Yallop has mentioned in the past that he looks to Seattle as a rival in part due to the years he has faced off against Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. Yallop and Schmid were on opposite benches during the hey-day of the California Clasico earlier in the 2000s. Both captured MLS Cup titles with their sides, with Schmid going one further and capturing an Open Cup Championship in 2001. Since becoming the head coach in Seattle, Schmid has never lost in the Open Cup tournament and has led the Sounders to the past three titles.

“We go way back, me and Sigi,” said Yallop on Monday. “Obviously, his record speaks for itself not only in MLS but in Open Cup play. He’s won it four times over the years, so yes they have a great coach up there in Seattle. It’s going to be a tough game for us and he’ll have his troops motivated and ready to go. We know it is going to be a tough game to play.”

Would Yallop like to get one over on his Sounders nemesis in this year’s edition of the tournament and send home the reigning three-time champions?

“Sure,” said Yallop, “we fell confident we can play our game. We’ve got a strong squad and we’ll be ready for whatever they come up with. We know we can come up with a good display.”

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